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‘Suddenly we have no more power’: Oil drilling on Maya and Garifuna land in Belize

11 September 2013

For centuries, Belize’s Toledo district has been home to indigenous Maya people and Garifuna, an Afro-descendant people. They have relied on the natural resources of Toledo’s forests and rivers to preserve their way of life. But recently the government of Belize has allowed foreign companies to extract resources from their ancestral land without their consent.

In 1994, without consulting Toledo Maya or Garifuna people, the government converted almost 42,000 acres of their ancestral territory into government land, the Sarstoon-Temash National Park (STNP). The government then opened the STNP to oil exploration by US Capital Energy Belize, Ltd, a wholly owned Belizean subsidiary of American company US Capital Energy, Inc.

The legality of these actions has been challenged by both national and international bodies. These bodies have concluded that the Belize government must recognize Maya collective land ownership in Toledo and obtain the free, prior and informed consent of Maya communities before awarding concessions.The government of Belize has refused to comply with these decisions, however, and recently awarded US Capital a permit to begin drilling in Toledo.

This briefing is based on primary field research and an extensive review of relevant law. It concludes that the Belizean government must fulfill its obligations under domestic and international law to recognize and protect the ancestral land rights of indigenous people and minorities. US Capital should also comply with international standards on business and human rights by respecting the rights of Maya and Garifuna.

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Chelsea Purvis